Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Eighteen

Continuing my highly personal notes on Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012), here’s Chapter Eighteen: Structures, Energy and Technology. Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Besides wastes and pollution, the typical North American home produces almost nothing more than some meals and does only clothes cleaning, minor repairs and perhaps grasscutting for self-reliance.” — Peter Bane


“A farm is a working landscape.”

Primary aim of garden farms: sustenance for those who live there or who farm it. Secondary aim: supporting regional ecosystem and society, and to generate cash income for the farmers/gardeners and household.

“The structures of the home system are an extension of the human and communal
bodies. The house itself is a third skin, beyond our clothing, within the environment of the planet, helping us to regulate our temperature and to store valuable materials.”

This sunroom in our house is like an epidermis, the skin between the inside and the outside. We use it for entertaining and lounging from April to October, and storing hand tools and various gardening resources (and a stray cat), Aug. 2017

Assumptions about conventional American homes built in the last 100 years:

  • that food comes from the grocery but is usually prepared at home
  • that life needs can be met by the marketplace
  • that adults will be employed outside the home except old people, the infirm and disabled, and mothers of very young children
  • that children will be educated in school
  • that machines will perform or aid as many repetitive types of work as possible (sanitation, laundry, cooking, cleaning, landscape maintenance, transport)
  • that people will live as couples (households of two adults) sometimes with children and sometimes as singles
  • that the specialized forms of work needed at home (carpentry, plumbing, electrical and mechanical repairs, tree trimming) will be jobbed out to tradespeople.

“Besides wastes and pollution, the typical North American home produces almost nothing more than some meals and does only clothes cleaning, minor repairs and perhaps grasscutting for self-reliance.”

But the garden farm “grows, harvests, preserves and prepares food; builds soil by composting and other means; captures, stores and distributes water; cuts and processes plant and animal matter to make other things and to yield food; recycles nearly all of its own biological wastes; provides a good measure of its own energy for heating and other purposes; makes and repairs common household goods and even specialized tools and machinery; may provide medical and veterinary care to people or livestock and supports its residents to work gainfully at home at least part of the time and as much as possible.”

So other structures are needed for a garden farm than for a typical North American middle class home. Some can be adapted and some need to be built. And for labour, two adults or more will be needed.


Some structures: a large kitchen connected to a social space; and food prep and storage structures, to work with and store several thousand pounds of food: a pantry with preserved foods that don’t need electricity; a root cellar (34-57F degrees); a summer kitchen to can in, with a roof, four walls, a sink, counters or tables, a heat source, and water; structures and tools for canning, fermenting, smoking, salting, freezing (keep nothing longer than a year), and food drying.

home-canned goods in basement of an acquaintance’s house, May 2013
another use for our sunroom: letting peaches ripen, Aug. 2017

A food-related structure that Bane doesn’t mention is a maple sugaring/syruping shack, fairly common around where we live in New England. Some of our neighbours just tap their sugar maple trees and cook the sap outside over a simple fire, or inside on the stove, depending on how much there is.

Some folks get certified and sell their maple products to others from their shack, March 2015.
Here, we’re inside a small commercial farm’s syruping shack, with the steamy evaporator and buckets of maple syrup in the making, March 2015


Heating the house: Needs to be as energy efficient as possible. Capture solar energy. Gas is best for water heating and cooking fuel. Wood is best for space heating. Geothermal not so great: “Geothermal systems circulate water deep into the ground to draw earth heat up for boosting to room temperature with the use of heat pumps. They are relatively efficient but remain dependent on a steady source of electricity. [S]witching home heat from a propane furnace to a geothermal heat pump reduces the dollar cost of heating, but make little to no impact on the carbon dioxide footprint of the home.”

family room set up for a group meeting, with the woodstove blazing, Dec. 2015
our propane gas range



“We have lots of hand tools and not very many machines. If our farm were larger, we might appreciate some additional machinery, but for 30,000 square feet, we get by with a pickup truck, two gas chainsaws, a chop saw, a table saw, a circular saw, a couple of battery-driven screw guns, a jigsaw, a router and a small hand-held electric planer. We’ve borrowed a power washer, and we’ve rented a log splitter, a trenching machine, a floor sander, a cement mixer and a backhoe.”

a bobcat and sod dug up for our patio, July 2012

Can use a scythe or battery-powered weedwhacker to cut grass. Wheelbarrows are useful – they have four.

Garden tools and small machines:
Garden tools that don’t use gas or oil should be stored near house; those that do should be in a shed, barn, garage, or other outbuilding. Includes axes, mattocks, pry bars, peaveys, post hole diggers, shovels, rakes, hoes, spades, forks and brooms. Paint the outlines for the tools on the walls for easy clean up.

Hand- and electrically powered tools for repair and construction : Everything from hammers, levels, drill guns, wrecking bars, pliers, wrenches, pipecutters, voltage testers. These items are easily lost, some with batteries that need charging; store them in tool boxes and drawers or in cabinets, organized by general type (e.g., woodworking tools, wrenches there, levels on the wall or in a corner). Keep them close, in a garage, workshop, or in the house in a utility room.

tools and resources aplenty in our garage, Feb. 2017
tool shed at Spring Ledge Farm, NH, May 2012

Supplies that facilitate repair and construction, such as small hardware, caulk, lumber crayons, wire nuts, plumbing teflon, string, duct tape, lubricants, pipe glue, paint. Some are toxic or volatile, so they shouldn’t be kept in the house if there’s another spot for them.

one of our utility closets, with items for repairs and building things
our shed seen from patio, Oct. 2017


Barns: Useful to store straw bales, grain, annual gear, hoop houses, your inventory of resources:

“One of the important reasons for having a barn, a shed or more is so that you can organize your resource inventory. The industrial economy is beginning a long, slow spiral of devolution, and it’s scattering its parts across seven continents. The garden farm has to sift through some of this detritus and collect the more useful bits. A resource inventory is your storage of industrial energy. This consists of leftovers, salvaged materials, great finds and white elephants. You can’t do anything useful unless you have a stock of spare parts. That means things like scrap lumber (all sizes and dimensions), paneling, fence posts and fencing, wire of every gauge and description, hardware of course, but also salvaged window sash, an extra sink, a zillion buckets, cardboard by the bale, straw, compost, wood chips, poles, siding, pipes and fittings, irrigation line, insulation, spare gutters, sheet metal, bicycle parts, glass jars and tin cans and plastic tubs, live traps and cages and harnesses and straps and hinges and twine and rope. You can’t afford to have endless amounts of these things, but you need a little of each. In short, you need your own hardware store. … And every so often, you have to purge some of it to a bonfire, the River Styx recycling center or the scrapyard. Don’t get attached.”

salvage for art-making in a barn at Bedrock Garden, Lee, NH, July 2015
part of a friend’s barn, the site of many a party and dinner, Dec. 2011
Another use for a barn: a distillery and shop! Windsor, VT, Oct. 2016

Greenhouses: Need a large amount of thermal mass inside it. Use plastic or polycarbonate, not glass. (Bane includes much more information but I’m not building a greenhouse.)

friend’s greenhouse/hoop house with basil and peppers, Aug. 2014

Animal shelters: Sheds for rabbits and poultry together. Hogs should be separate or with large animals. (Lots more info in the book.)

friend’s greenhouse and chicken coop, Feb. 2013

Outdoor rooms: Porches, decks, patios. (We had already had our patio built when I read this, so no notes.)


“If you modify existing fences, I would strongly suggest that you consider installing gates to connect to your neighbors’ yards —all of them — wherever these don’t already exist. You may not use the gate often, but it’s insane not to be able to walk into your neighbor’s yard for a conversation, a visit, to retrieve a lost frisbee or, if nothing else, to warn them of the danger of fire or storm. There’s also the matter of chasing an errant chicken or duck that gets over the fence. Do you want to have to drive around the block to pursue?”


Final words of wisdom:

“Plant flowers thickly along the fence; use lots of color and vary the heights. Make them perennial so they’ll come back stronger each year, and keep the flower beds weeded and trimmed. Or you could just get a 15-foot pink fiberglass T-Rex and a couple of inflated palm trees, and no one will even notice the fence.”


Featured image (top image) is our shed in repose, Sept. 2016.

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